BM85: ESU supports VVS in its call for a Students at Risk programme in Flanders

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights will celebrate its 75th anniversary this year. The impact of this landmark declaration cannot be overstated: great advances have marked the human rights landscape in recent decades. At the same time, it is clear that nothing has been definitively acquired – quite the contrary. Promoting human rights remains complex. 

As the European Students’ Union has expressed, human rights and democracy are not like riding a bike, which you only need to learn once. They are like learning a language: you have to keep practising it. If you don’t, you will forget how to do it. Much like learning a language, there is a wide spectrum of ability and there’s always some improvement to be made or something new to be learned, even when you think you have already mastered it.

The fundamental principles of academic freedom and the right to education are facing escalating threats globally, as a result of a growing atmosphere of instability and conflict. In many regions, institutions of higher learning find themselves ensnared in the crossfire of armed conflicts, compromising the safety and freedom of educators and students alike. Universities are becoming battlegrounds, disrupting education and denying students their right to learn, to grow, and to develop into responsible citizens. Students and their representatives are targeted for expressing dissent, leading to a chilling effect on free expression and open inquiry. This not only undermines the pursuit of knowledge but also threatens the foundations of democracy. 

Armed government forces entering the campuses of higher education institutions to disrupt peaceful protests and arrest students and their representatives for the expression of their thoughts can never be justified. In the famous words of Henri Poincaré: “Thought must never submit, neither to a dogma, nor to a party, nor to a passion, nor to an interest, nor to a preconceived idea, nor to whatever it may be, save to the facts themselves, because, for thought, submission would mean ceasing to be.” 

With a view to next years’ elections, it has become clear that Flanders needs to become a home not only for scholars, but also for students facing harassment, expulsion, persecution and imprisonment in their home countries. The European Students’ Union supports VVS in its calls upon government and higher education stakeholders to come together to create a Students At Risk programme, analogous to the Scholars At Risk programme, the Flanders section of which was officially created on the 10th of December 2021, International Human Rights Day. 

Flanders is one of the richest regions in the world, in a country with a long history of accepting individuals persecuted for their ideas. With the leading European Union institutions located in our midst, we not only have the possibility to support leading activists to excel in their studies, their commitment to democratic values, and the building of networks, but the moral obligation to do so.

Proposers: VVS



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